Surprisingly, even 517 years after his death, the supreme explorer continues to speak of himself. The most recent news comes from a Swiss collection, where a collector has kept Cristoforo Colombo’s 1493 epistle in outstanding condition for a long time.
De insulis nuper inventus
The epistle, dubbed “Delle isole nuove“, comprises four sheets written in Latin on both sides. The Italian explorer appears to have detailed the topography, impressions, and sensations of the unknown islands he had just landed on following his first exploratory journey. He set out from Palos de la Frontera at 6 a.m. on August 3, 1492, and arrived in the New World at dawn on October 12. The epistle recalls his initial impressions of the people of Arawak, a South American indigenous people who greeted him and his fleet. Explicitly, Cristoforo Colombo sent the letter to Gabriel Sanchez, the treasurer of King Ferdinand and Isabella, sometimes known as The Catholic Kings.
A troubled auction that goes above and beyond all expectations
Christie’s, the world’s largest auction house, auctioned off Cristoforo Colombo‘s epistle for a total of $3.92 million. The experts’ first estimate was between 1 and 1.5 million, with the result unprecedented and contrary to all predictions.
Christie’s claims to have done everything in their power to ensure the rare epistle’s integrity and officiality. There had been multiple attempts at theft and smuggling, so such a bizarre sale was never anticipated. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any information concerning the epistle’s life prior to its storage in a private Swiss library. Margaret Ford, Christie’s agent in charge of foreign books and manuscripts, denies any chance of smuggling, claiming nothing strange about her provenance.
While Colombo could have bought a few more caravels with that money, we can only imagine his surprise if he realized his letter would one day be worth that much. After all, the fact that this letter is still so precious today demonstrates the importance of preserving history and honoring the bravery of earlier explorers. Maybe one day our emails will be worth it!
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